The Sacrifice

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

Amazing Love: Graham Kendrick

I’d be the first to admit I’m not a huge Graham Kendrick fan. I find his songs too simplistic often. It feels like the magnitude of Christianity is minimised to me in some of them.

But then there’s “Amazing Love”.

From the first time I heard it around 1991 it gripped me. For once the simplicity magnified the message.

John and Charles Wesley wrote of the magnitude of God, His Majesty is ever present in their hymns. I grew up singing traditional hymns in a traditional church in England. The words meant less to me then than the music did. I was singing “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart at the age of 10 as a soloist, and I revelled in it. There was something majestic in the sound.

After my brother died, about 9 months later, I committed my life to Christ in the quiet of my bedroom in November 1985. Maybe I’ll write the whole story here some day, but not today. Suffice to say nothing changed in my circumstances, but how I listened to things changed.

Suddenly the words were more important than the melody. The heart behind the music rather than the music itself. At school we sang Durufle’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem and other pieces that my classmates sang for the music, I found myself singing for what was behind it.

“Amazing Love” came into my life as a song a couple of years after it was written, and a couple of years after I’d left school and moved away from home. It was a time of upheaval for me. My first serious relationship had ended and I was back in church regularly as a member of the choir. And annoying other modern marvels were being forced on us by a group determined to be “relevant”, who lacked the social connection with the “youth” required. The attempts were laudable, but doomed.96953-calvaryencaustic

Then there was this simple chorus. The words and music captured my heart for Worship and it reached a place of relevance for me.

“The Son of God, Given for Me”

The concept was one that had been on the back burner for me for a couple of years. A well meaning member of the clergy had inadvertently stopped me going to seminary, in fact put me off going to church completely, by giving me advice in a way I couldn’t respond to. Consequently I left home and moved in with my girlfriend instead of going to Bible College.

Now this song poured fuel on the embers that had been stoked and my Faith was growing again.

“My Debt He pays, and my death He dies, That I Might Live”

The whole Gospel summed up in once sentence. I didn’t weep because I was too broken emotionally to be able to – another VERY long story – but something inside me snapped home.

My debt, His Sacrifice. He went to the Cross for me. If I were the only one who would ever respond to the event on that hill, Jesus would still walk up and let them execute Him, just for me.

Just for you.

It blew my mind. Even now over 20 years later that chorus strikes my heart like very few others have done.

Jesus died for me personally. Now I’m a huge believer in the importance of being part of the Body, but the thought that it was so personal was brought back to the front of my mind by this one little chorus.

I love the old hymn “Amazing Grace” because it does much the same, but this was fresher for me. I needed the refreshing splash of the reminder against my weary face.

933ba-dali2b-2bchrist2bof2bst2bjohn2bon2bthe2bcrossThe modern church has done much to make God accessible again, the way Jesus and the disciples did 2000 years ago. Sometimes it tries too hard and misses so badly I want to distance myself from it. But then there’s songs like this one. Priceless gems hidden, even forgotten now because it was 25 years ago when it was written, that can rekindle a flame.

We get reminded every so often that Jesus came on a very personal and intensely focussed mission by books. Authors like Max Lucado, CS Lewis and John Eldredge remind us just how Jesus was a soldier battling the forces of the enemy from inside enemy-held ground.

I loved the movie “The Dirty Dozen” growing up, and “Where Eagles Dare” and “Guns of Navarone” were favourites too. More recently the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy struck the same chord. The heroes had to go into territory held by a ferocious enemy that would not hesitate to kill them if they were caught. If we read the Gospels, particularly John’s, we see the same threads. Here is an individual set down in occupied land, surrounded by people who want to kill Him. When we teach Sunday School, how often do we remind the children that Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 2 years as part of the Christmas Story? I don’t remember that being part of the local pageant.

But it sets the scene. Eldredge described Jesus as “hunted” in “Beautiful Outlaw”. If I listen to Andrew Wommack’s teaching I can’t help hearing the way the enemy was hounding Him, and as a result us.

He gave up Heaven. Streets of Gold with gates made of a single pearl were exchanged for a cave, surrounded by livestock and a food trough lined with hay for a crib. This is the ultimate “black ops” mission. The fate of the entire human race is at stake. Jesus undertakes it willingly and humbly.

How dare we not be in awe of that?

Awe

Empty Road

Empty

Living in South Africa I’ve gotten used to long drives. For example, non-stop it’s about 17 hours from my home in Cape Town to Johannesburg, so the trip takes 2 days.

It’s the same going to my wife’s family in Namibia. Again, about 17-18 hours drive.

On the Namibian road, like the one in the feature picture, you can drive for a very long time in a very straight line and not see another vehicle. It’s largely deserted except in the cities, and much of that is desert like the movies show it. Not all, but a lot.

The first time I drove up was exhausting. Thankfully the car had aircon or I’d be a puddle. Even with it running full we were hot. There’s little or no cell phone coverage and no emergency phones on the roadside. If you break down or have an accident you have to hope someone else comes along, and that they stop.

It’s empty.

There’s a lot to be said for emptiness. It encourages conversation between travellers. It also can mean long silences when you run out of topics. Music is helpful as a distraction.

The road is hypnotic. The emptiness unceasing and the landscape unchanging for hundreds of miles at a time.

It sets me thinking about life as a Christian.

Christianity isn’t a sprint. At least, it’s not meant to be. It’s a marathon and then some.

There’s a lot of emptiness in much of our road though. Far more than God intended.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life, but so often it feels like walking a straight road through the desert. It feels like nothing changes. There’s as much ahead after ten hours walking as there was when you set out. Only now you’re hot, sweaty, tired and sick of walking.

We’re supposed to walk alongside one another, but the road feels empty. My wife and I have different paths even after over a decade of marriage. There are things about one another we just don’t “get”. Every couple has those things, and it’s only a problem if you let it be. I know couples who lost sight of why they were together because of their differences and split up. I know others who embraced them and tried to join in with each other’s stuff – sometimes it worked, sometimes they split up. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

So the road feels empty.

And there’s a BIG difference between “empty” and “open”.

And open road holds possibilities, hope and adventure. I’m a biker and I love the open road, especially if there’s nothing else around. I used to go out for a ride when I lived in England, just to ride. The road was open and I just went. Sometimes I was home an hour later, sometimes five or six. I loved it.

But an empty road, a road that never changes, is a road that can break your spirit.

The road starts with something life-changing.

For me it started at 2:55pm Wednesday 20th February 1985. A phone call. “Robin’s dead”. Nobody else I know has walked that path. I was not quite 13 years old. Robin was younger, taken by a moment of stupidity and childish impetuosity when he swung out in front of a driver.

There have been times on my road where I’ve been through bustling activity. Those I can deal with. But the emptiness between them, even after 31 years, can be soul-destroying.

Other things hit people and set them off on their empty road. Cancer, addiction, AIDS, divorce, marriage (if it’s the wrong choice), bereavement, so many other things that can set us off down empty roads.

Our focus has become our own walk. We don’t pay attention to what’s going on around us.

So our road feels empty.

But it’s an illusion. We’re surrounded by others, we just don’t see them. There are always people with us. We just have been conditioned into a self-centred existence. Western society is incredibly selfish. Not so long ago in some of the European cultures around the Mediterranean you could buy a house with a “generational” mortgage over a century. Your children and their children would inherit the house and it would become their home. Now the American culture of self has infected it and that is changing society. The concept of a “single” European culture is laughable, except it’s being rammed down everyone’s throat. Dire warnings from the far left about leaving the EU and from the far right about staying. Apparently if Britain stays it will cripple the economy, cause unemployment and weaken the currency, whereas if Britain leaves it will cripple the economy cause unemployment and weaken the currency.

Both sides make out the other is an empty road, desolate and bleak with nobody around to help us.

That’s what is happening in the Church. We’re conforming to the pattern of this world instead of being transformed by renewing our minds in the light of the Holy Spirit. America is leading the way down this path. The “socialist” left is almost indistinguishable from the “evangelical” right these days. Policy debates have been replaced with personal slanders and jibes. And yet somehow this country with more debt per capita than Greece is the one everyone wants to be like.

Yikes.

Because that really is an empty road, and the trip is led by the vacuous and incapable who rely on charisma not character. They are empty vessels. When I was a kid we travelled by train a lot. I used to love watching the freight trains with the oil cars come past, but you could tell which ones had oil in them. They were quieter. Empty vessels make a lot of noise. Useless, worthless noise.

Like politicians from all sides. I’m sure we could reduce Global Warming by simply banning politicians from speaking. The hot air they generate…

But this isn’t a political blog, so I’ll stop on that track.

It’s empty.

We need to open our eyes, or rather we need to get back to letting God open our eyes. We need to see the people around us, take time to really see them. You know, like the Early Church did. All the people had everything in common so none were in need Acts tells us. They met in each other’s homes, saw to it they were all fed. Those who had gladly gave up everything to provide for those who didn’t. They had substance.

Today we have hot-air preachers in mostly empty (and draughty) old churches that need the hot air to heat them.

But there’s a fire coming. This emptiness can’t go on forever.

In the 1700s, Wilberforce stood against the “greed is good” element in Parliament and fought them tooth and nail until he won and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. In the 1800s, Lincoln stood fast against the South and saw the end of the Civil War and delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, but never got to see the results in his lifetime. JFK stood strong against entering Vietnam. After Chamberlain’s failure to stop Hitler with words, Churchill led the Allied thrust against the Nazis’ tyrannical rule until it was wiped out. Mandela stood fast against Apartheid.

In every generation men and women have stood as a remnant for God when greed has overwhelmed society. Fullness of character battling against the empty rhetoric and hopeless roads.

We have companionship on our journey. Jesus is beside us every step of the way. He makes sure our roads are never empty.

We just need to open our eyes…

Always Present

Companion

Christianity is about more than simply “getting into heaven”. In recent years the Gospel has become little more than an After-life Insurance Policy.

Add to that the erosion in the belief of a literal Hell and it’s small wonder so many people simply can’t be bothered to believe until the last minute.

Let’s face it, the Christian life is not easy. Look at the list of things under the “not allowed” column.

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Power

Hang on, that’s not accurate. It is what often gets taught in some denominational churches, but it’s not what the Gospel is about.

Consider sex for a second.

It’s allowed. There’s a Godly context for it – Marriage – but it’s created to be fun. Pleasurable. Enjoyable. The pinnacle of Earthly intimacy.

Of course outside the boundaries of a Godly context it’s the opposite. It may seem like fun in the moment, but I’ve had so many conversations where the theme has been “I wish I hadn’t”. In the original version of “The Magnificent Seven”, Steve McQueen’s character tells of a man who took off all his clothes and jumped on a cactus because it “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

What about money? Didn’t Jesus say money was the root of all evil?

No.

He said the love of money was a root of evil. If money were inherently evil then any amount would be dangerous. Abraham was Blessed by God to the point that countries asked his family to leave because his family on its own was more bountiful than the entire country they were resting in. Solomon was the richest man ever because he trusted God. After Job was restored, God gave him back more than he’d lost. Money is not evil, but making it your idol is.

Power corrupts. So they say. But if that were true why did Jesus say the disciples would receive Power when the Holy Spirit fell on them? Surely He was therefore corrupting them if power corrupts in every instance?

Selfish ambition corrupts good morals. I look at the Presidents and possible Presidents from around the world. Robert Mugabe started out as a decent man who wanted freedom for his people, but after so long in power he has a need to hold onto that power. Jacob Zuma was a freedom fighter alongside Nelson Mandela, but his rise to power has been about personal gain rather than the betterment of life for the people he “governs”. Donald Trump seeks power to match his alleged wealth, Hillary Clinton seems to have her own selfish agenda behind the scenes as well. They seek power when the Presidency is supposed to be a role of Service. Somehow I can’t see many of the World’s Presidents wrapping a towel around themselves and washing the feet of their companions.

Ah, there’s the root.

The Gospel is about Companionship. Fellowship. God Himself originally designed man to be His companion, and woman to be man’s companion.

His friend.

He gave mankind dominion over the Earth. The only other being said to have dominion is God Himself. Christ recovered that dominion, and immediately handed it back to us – with Him as co-pilot now, not as a dictator, but as a companion to walk through life with.

We need His companionship, and He desires ours. He desires ours so much He had Himself nailed to a Roman Cross 2000 years ago so we could have Him as a companion in this world.

As He looked out from the Cross, our companionship was the Joy set before Him. It was the motivation behind His actions, His Sacrifice.

What amazes me is the idea that a Perfect God desires our companionship. He could have just wiped out mankind and started again, but His Love for us stopped Him from doing that and drove Him to rather seek us out and give up Himself for our sake.

About DavidMy wife is my companion. Marriage is a portrait of God’s relationship with us. It’s not always easy. In my 13 years of marriage we have endured some heavy battles, but our companionship with each other has seen us through them.

My friends are my companions in this life as well. I have few people I reserve the accolade of “close friend” to these days. They are people I allow to speak into my life and who allow me to speak into theirs. Currently I can count these companions on one hand.

And companionship has nothing to do with proximity. My Best Friend lives a thousand miles from me, but when we communicate there is a kinship there I have nowhere else except in my marriage, where the bond is strongest.

But my most important companion is Jesus.

And He’s only a whisper away.

That’s Companionship.

 

 

Perfection

Perfection

The “Featured Picture” here I took a couple of years ago at my home. I grow my own herbs and at the end of the season there’s always something I’ve not used all of. That year it was mint. The plant flowered, something I rarely see as I use a LOT of mint when I’m cooking, much to my wife’s annoyance (she thinks I’m trying to make dinner taste like toothpaste).

I was sitting on the stoep of the house and along floats this bee. I never antagonise them. They usually die if they sting us, so I’m not worried about a single. It calmly floats over to the mint flower and settles down, collecting nectar.

It had never occurred to me that mint could have nectar until that moment. I grabbed my camera and snapped the shot, such simple beauty. And the bee, so perfectly designed to perform the job of collecting nectar from such tiny flowers.

I looked at the mint, it was suddenly a thing of such visual beauty to me, not just another herb. The flowers in a bunch at the tip of each stem, perfectly aligned for a bee to come and collect from them.

So I began looking at other things. This sunssunset a1 2002et was taken in September 2003 at Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie. The picture is a little grainy because it was taken the old-fashioned way – film not digital. I’ve been to the spot many times since, but never seen the alignment of sun and lighthouse the same way again. The timing was perfect for the photo.

We live in a world created so perfectly ordered that we can predict to the second when an eclipse will take place, when tides will be high or low, and how high they will be days, weeks in advance.

Consider the laws of nature, the constants that allow us to fly in aeroplanes: gravity, thrust, lift, stalling speed. These constants are set in stone. A scientist can predict precisely how much thrust is required at a certain wing dimension to achieve lift and therefore flight, and at what speed the airflow must continue to travel around the wing given its dimensions to maintain that flight – the stalling speed.

Frequency of light and sound. 186000 miles per second, the speed of light is a constant. 1100 feet per second in air is the speed of sound. These are constants. Certain mediums change the rates, so different gasses produce different speeds for sound and light, glass, perspex etc change the speed of light to produce filters, but this is only possible because the initial speed is a universal constant.

Mankind is now looking at ways to get humans to Mars, presumably because we need to find more landfill sites. But the trip is only plannable because we know exactly where Mars will be at any given moment.

It is known when Halley’s Comet will be round next, and when it’s been around before. It has been hypothesised that it may even have been the “star” the Magi followed to Bethlehem spoken of in the Nativity story – the exact date of Christ’s birth not being known but the time the comet was about is very exact, and fits the general timeline.

Consider the mathematical odds of life. Billions to one against this rock floating around a star of sufficient size and density, far enough away that it doesn’t scorch the ground, close enough that the rays provide enough heat. All the other variables that even 0.0001% out mean life cannot exist. Yet so many choose to convince themselves God cannot be a reality.

I bet you were wondering when God would appear in this post.

The requirements to not believe in God are so much greater than the requirements to believe. To be able to be convinced that life happened here by chance takes far more faith than believing everything was created by something far bigger than we are, with a form of intelligence beyond our own. The arrogance of it is even more staggering.

To believe there is no God is staggering. Being convinced that the world and life is a chance fluke is ignorance of the highest order. I can’t explain the process an egg goes through to grow into a chicken in terms of the science behind it, but I’ve never met a scientist who could answer why life happens in that egg. We know the chemical make-up of the egg. We can mix the ingredients to the exact proportions, but if we put it in an incubator we’ll never grow a chicken. Life is not simply a chemical reaction. If it were we could replicate it.

The perfection of creation is only matched by the flaw it carries. Us.

When we rebelled against God we brought death into this universe. God responded by giving us Grace to counter it. The cells in my body replicate themselves and produce identical copies of themselves. We call this “growth” and “life”, but if the new cells are identical to the old ones, why do we age? Chemically there’s no reason for ageing I’ve yet to be told, although I’m open to comments on this post explaining it (as long as you use small words please, I’m a simple man of faith, not a brilliant scientist – I leave medicine and science to my wife, a doctor, who can’t explain it either).

An atheist is simply a man with no invisible means of support. What hope can there be in an atheistic existence? For an atheist, the purpose of life is to die. The end product is to return to being nothing more than a pile of chemicals sitting in the dust.

How depressing.

I may not be perfect, but as a Christian, my faith gives me hope. Hebrews 11 states Faith is the substance of what we hope for. It is the evidence of what we have not yet seen. How perfect that is.

God is perfect. Jesus is perfect.

We are being made perfect.

I’m a work in progress. So are you.

On a path to perfection… Enjoy the ride!

Hiding the City on a Hill

City On a Hill

I live in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a beautiful city, nestled in the shadow of Table Mountain in South Africa. If you go up the mountain it’s impossible not to see the city as it sprawls out below you.

My favourite city I’ve visited is Rome. Built on seven hills it’s imposing as you drive towards it. You can’t miss this combination of modern and ancient architecture from a distance. In the city itself is the Vatican City, an independent city state within the city of Rome. Despite its size and fame, the first time I went to Rome I walked right past it twice before I found the entrance.

You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” says Jesus in Matthew 5:14, yet somehow we try to hide this city. We are supposed to be salt and light to the World, yet we’ve missed that as well.

The very notion of Christians having something relevant to say has been usurped by bigoted stereotypes wandering around with an attitude of “You’re all going to Hell, directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collect $200” towards everyone. So little Grace is expressed, so little offer of welcome and forgiveness. Small wonder people think the KKK represent Christianity today. True Christians are virtually silent!

Why are we trying so hard not to make waves today? Where is the outrage at unjust and bigoted speech from the so-called “evangelical” political groups? Where is the commentary on the bigoted speech of the candidates themselves?

We’re hiding our cities way too effectively. So effectively in fact that nobody realises they’re there!

It’s not acceptable for the voice of the “Christians” to be a representative from a xenophobic, racist, sexist group. That is not our city!

Christ calls us to be a group where everyone is welcome, equal before Him. No one sin is to be called out as worse than another. If He is coming from a place with many mansions (John 14) then that sounds like a city to me. Is it so terrible to think that someone is worse than we are because their sin is different than our own?

Greed is sinful. Can anyone honestly tell me either of the two US frontrunners don’t exhibit greed in their lifestyles? Trump has his private jets with gold fixtures, Hillary hasn’t driven herself in years. Yet they both claim to be in touch with the “average” American.

Right. Sure they are. And I bet they wash their hands as son as possible afterwards.

Folks, why are we hiding our city? Why is the Salt and Light to the World putting itself in a cupboard or under a table instead of shining out for God’s Righteousness?

We are called to be in the World, but we behave of the World too much. All of us.

I watch too much TV. I don’t watch when broadcast, but I like to find a good series and I’ll watch the whole thing as fast as possible. “Boston Legal” – all 5 seasons in 2 weeks. “Stargate:SG1” 10 seasons in 8 weeks. You get the idea. I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” in short order as well. The morality of the characters is borderline, the behaviour is so far from Christian values as to be not worth considering. On TV, almost without exception, Christians are portrayed as out of touch do-gooders, moralistic and holier-than-thou, interfering busybodies. Ministers are shown as weak and boring. I have yet to see a series where Christians are accurately depicted. Why? Because non-Christians can’t write Christians and non-Christians (generally) can’t play them convincingly. The Christian TV movies that get made generally go straight to video, and often make me cringe. The message is almost always too judgemental.

Oh yes, I’m judgemental too. Add that to my list of sins.

We are a flawed city, a city made of broken and damaged stones that Christ has rearranged into something beautiful. We need to acknowledge our flaws – all of them – and step away from them. My late Grandad died at the age of 80 having been a Christian since his mid teens. He was in the Salvation Army as a minister during the War from 1939-1945 and was a good man. Not a perfect one. Even after 60+ years he was still learning new things about his Saviour. A few days before he died he phoned me, very excited, because he had a sense that God was calling him on to new things. He had been to a service the previous day where he had felt moved to go to the “Mercy Seat”, kneel down and cling to it. Now Grandad was many things, but good at getting on his knees physically was not one of them, yet this octogenarian minister felt Christ lift a burden from him and could do nothing but fall to his knees – literally – in worship. He never hid his faith, but he never forced it on anyone either. People would stop him in the street and ask him what was so “different” about him.

When was the last time that happened to you? It’s been years since it happened to me.

We hide our light too much. We collectively hide the City of God and hope to blend in with everyone around us far too much.

In “Boston Legal”, James Spader’s character, Alan Shore, says to a clown “You’re a clown. Be funny.” It’s obvious that this guy in funny clothes and make-up is supposed to make children laugh, but he talks about unfunny things.

You’re a Christian. Be Salt and Light to the World.

Be a City, Built on a hill.

Openness

There’s many examples of openness in the Gospels. Many of absolutes as well. Certain things that had been “sinful” behaviour in the Old Covenant were redeemed by Jesus’ actions in creating the New Covenant we commonly refer to as Christianity.

The problem is that what today is touted as “Christianity” is a far cry from what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost when thousands became Christians. It’s removed from the Grace shown to all and by all in that first century movement that terrified the Roman Empire.

The wake of the horrific shootings at the nightclub in Florida have caused an outpouring of “You are in our prayers” statements from denominations that would rail against the individuals lifestyle if they pitched up at the church on Sunday morning. The hypocrisy stinks.

But there’s elements in Christianity that always get pulled out by atheists and especially by “enlightened” ex-Christians when something like this happens.

So I want to be open.

There are certain things which had been considered sinful in the Old Covenant – the one the ex-Christians and Atheists love to quote – which are overturned by the New Covenant.

Lets look at Pork and Lobster. Both are declared “unclean” foods in the Old Testament in the same books that say homosexuality is a sin (I’ll come back to this in a moment, so bear with me). Jesus teaches that what enters a man through his mouth passes through his body and is expelled. Peter has a vision:

The next day, as they were on their way and were approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof of the house about the sixth hour (noon) to pray, but he became hungry and wanted something to eat. While the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet descending, lowered by its four corners to the earth, and it contained all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “Not at all, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common (unholy) and [ceremonially] unclean.” And the voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed and pronounced clean, no longer consider common (unholy).” This happened three times, and then immediately the object was taken up into heaven.

Acts 10:9-16 Amplified Translation

All kinds of animals, wild and domestic. Another translation includes reptiles in the description. Peter initially balks at the call, yet the voice is clear, God has made these things clean. So there goes the anti-bacon and anti-lobster crowd’s argument.

Paul refers to food and sex in 1 Corinthians:

 Everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything [and brought under its power, allowing it to control me]. Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will do away with both of them. The body is not intended for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body [to save, sanctify, and raise it again because of the sacrifice of the cross].

1 Corinthians 6:12-13 AMP

He goes on:

Run away from sexual immorality [in any form, whether thought or behavior, whether visual or written]. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the one who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have [received as a gift] from God, and that you are not your own [property]? You were bought with a price [you were actually purchased with the precious blood of Jesus and made His own]. So then, honor and glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 AMP

The word used for “Run away from” literally means to “flee in terror”. Paul never held back in his letters. When he says our own righteousness without Christ is as “filthy rags” the 21st Century equivalent would be “used tampons”. This was not a man afraid to speak whole truth.

Yet he still stands by and says homosexuality is a sin.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:24-32 NIV

There’s no room for interpretation here. Sexual immorality – ALL sexual immorality is repugnant to God, not only same-gender sex, but any sexual activity outside the bounds of Marriage. God created sex to be immensely pleasurable – and it is. We wouldn’t want it and do it so much if it wasn’t!

But as with everything in this world, the Enemy got hold and twisted the action. God doesn’t say accumulating wealth is sinful, He says greed and making that wealth accumulation is sin – because money and material possessions become your god. He doesn’t say sex is sinful, just the twisted, lust induced instead of the love-induced He designed.

A dear friend of mine who I love and care about immensely was badly hurt by the church. He was sick with an illness the church he moved to told him he should be able to overcome by prayer.

It’s not that simple. His wife had an amazing gift for worship. Within a few months of moving to this new church where they had been invited to be leaders in a Worship setting, they had been undermined and lambasted to the point that they left the church, hurt by the hypocrisy and judgemental attitudes of the leadership. Without a strong Christian support network round them their marriage failed and both he and his wife now actively campaign against Christianity.

God-haters. Arrogant and boastful. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

How does this post support the victims of the Orlando shootings?

I’m being open.

But many readers will only see hate and “homophobia” in my words.

I’m not afraid of homosexuals. I have a number of dear friends who know where I stand on the issue and love me back anyway.

You see, God doesn’t hate Homosexuals. Quite the opposite. He endured flogging, humiliation, torture and the most excruciating death imaginable for homosexuals just as much as he did for everyone else. When the woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before Him, Jesus doesn’t ask who she was with. He doesn’t care. It is not specified that it was a man, just that she was sexually involved with the other person.

She may have been with the wife, not the husband. Jesus doesn’t care because she is repentant. He cares about the hypocrites with the stones in their hands and murder in their hearts. He is the one person there who is Perfect and therefore eligible to throw the first stone. When He challenges the hypocrites, calling them out on their own sin, they all walk away, the thud, thud, thud of falling rocks as their guilt over their own sin overcomes them and they walk away leaving only Jesus and the woman.

He doesn’t ask her about the affair. He doesn’t ask her about her life. He asks if nobody condemned her. Then He tells her He doesn’t either, but to go and leave her sin behind.

Why do we get so worked up about homosexuality? Personally I’m way more bothered by the obvious greed and misogyny of Trump and Clinton clawing their way to gain power and wealth, yet nobody seems to call out those sins. Probably because they aren’t gay.

I can’t refer to myself as a “Conservative” Christian any more. The description understood by the World would likely get me lynched in many circles. “Conservative” christians would have a problem with my marriage – my wife and I have different levels of melanin in our skins. What a ludicrous reason to reject someone. It’s like saying “oh, your blood type is AB+? You’re not as good as me, I’m O-“. How pathetic a reason to launch hate at someone.

Be open enough to admit, please I invite the KKK to do this, that your hate is based on fear of someone who simply looks different than you. How pathetic you are for that attitude.

But Jesus did die for you as well, just not exclusively as you seem to think.

I love the joke where the KKK Grand Wizard dies and goes to the Pearly Gates where St Peter meets him and says “God wants a word with you. Your work has been noted and pointed out for special attention from the Lord, but there’s something you should know going in.” The Grand Wizard pulls himself up and says “What is it I should know?”. Peter responds “It’s about God… She’s Black…”

In “Boston Legal”, Alan Shore (played amazingly by James Spader) has to defend a family of White Supremacists, and despite despising their beliefs he does so – successfully. The family begin to sing “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” to thank him and he turns to them and says “You do know Michael was a gay Jew from Mexico I assume?” and walks out, leaving them shell-shocked, and the audience (in my house anyway) in stitches of laughter, the comedy making a very serious point – we’re all equal in God’s eyes.

The character’s open nature about himself and his flaws draws me to him in the same way another of Spader’s characters, Red Reddington in The Blacklist, draws me. They are very different men, but their common theme is that they recognise their own flaws.

So here are mine. I endure physical pain constantly. I found out why this week, I have a condition that has weakened my spine over the years (physically) and left me in constant pain as a result. Consequently I can be very short-tempered. People don’t get that. All they see is a bad tempered man weighing 200 pounds, often riding a motorcycle.

I carry emotional scars, more than I care to share today, but many which have been open wounds for decades. Raw nerves in my mind that trigger a short-temper when touched. Most of my friends have seen it and distanced themselves from me for a time, some of them years. It makes me lonely.

I have 3 people I consider close friends. They are all young women in their 20s. I get judged for this because I am a married man in my 40s. It bugs me more than I like to admit. My closest friend and I worked together for a while and had lunch together every day for a year. My family – especially my wife – knew about this and were cool with it. But I had comments made that were thinly veiled accusations of impropriety. Partly to bug them I pressed close and as a result this lady is my closest and most trusted friend. But I still wanted to show up the hypocrisy of the accusers.

I’m sarcastic and cynical, not qualities usually admitted to by Christian writers.

I find the practice in Africa, where I currently live, of referring to yourself as “Brother” or “Prophet”, “Apostle”, “Bishop”, “Pastor” or whatever before their name ridiculous. If you have to state it, you’re not living it right. I prefer people just call me David and be done with that. God will not call me by a title, but will recognise me by a testimony. Heck, I don’t even like to be “Mr”. I treat everyone the same. Some people are offended by this. Others are enthralled. Dignity and respect – but don’t take me for a fool because you interpret this as weakness.

So I try to be open

.

I wish more Christians would, just for a moment. Maybe then there would be fewer ex-Christians.

Open

A Daily Struggle

It’s been a rough week for me personally. In general I don’t like to get too personal in this blog as although Testimony is critical to our Spiritual walk it can often involve other people, and their story is not mine.

As far as possible this will be about my struggles recently.

Regular readers (both of you) know I’m starting this project as a result of a call on my life made 20 years ago that became developed into what is now this blog, and the newsletter soon to be produced for the mailing list. From there, the vision is to register formally as a non-profit Christian Charity with social change and outreach as goals. The newsletter will make the move into a self-financed print magazine using testimony and teaching provided by local and connected churches and ministries. It’s a challenge for someone diagnosed with ADD to head this up, and I am VERY aware I can’t do it alone.

I had a list of things I was going to do over the last 3 weeks towards EaglIMG_20160531_154122e’s Wing Ministries as a project. None of them got done. My oldest dog, Beamer, stopped eating and began drastically losing weight. The photo here was taken in January before she got sick. She was 36 kilos (about 7olbs) and although she was 12 years old she had just got her second wind as far as activity was concerned. She had a bit of pain in her hips, but nothing we couldn’t control, and the smile in this picture was typical of her when she was playing. We’d just taken a break from playing with the toy between her front paws, a “Kong”. She loved it and we’d had 3 in her life.

Fast forward twelve weeks and that smile was less enthusiastic and she was down to 27kg (55lbs +/-). For any creature losing that much weight that fast is a bad sign. We took her to a vet and she was treated for a gastric infection. It didn’t help and a week later she was 25kg. We took her back and the senior vet, Dr Futter, examined her. With half a century of experience he was able to confirm what I’d dreaded hearing. She had cancer. He offered to run tests to confirm it, but a physical examination had found her liver was not right. She would go downhill fast and be in a lot of pain.

Much as it hurt, my wife and I took the only choice we had and said goodbye to her. I knelt stroking her paws and her head as the injection was given, and my wife and I were the last faces she saw as she slipped away.

I’ve faced loss. My dad’s sister died in a fire in 1981, his cousin from cancer in ’83. My brother died in a road accident in 1985, Both my mum’s parents died from cancer in ’88 and ’91. Dad’s parents died relatively peacefully from their hearts giving up, then in ’99 my dad died of a brain tumour at 56, 7 years after retiring on health grounds and beating melanoma.

I know loss. We are intimately acquainted. There’s a lot more, but those stories belong to other people as well.

I saw more struggle and suffering in the first 28 years of my life in England than most see in 70. And it’s not given up. I’m 44 now and the hits keep coming.

But we weren’t promised an easy life. We are in a war as Christians, and soldiers are uniquely open to suffering.

6342a-dali-christofstjohnonthecrossJesus suffered. He sweated blood the night of His arrest. He was whipped until He was unrecognisable as a man, then He was nailed to a timber beam and left in the sun of a Middle-Eastern day to be suffocated by his own bodyweight dislocating His shoulders and elbows as He fought for every breath. His weight would cause His lungs to begin to collapse and finally He would die of suffocation, naked and in agony, a combination of blood-loss from the whipping, heat exposure under the sun and crucifixion. The final confirmation, a spear thrust into His side and what was left of His blood flowed out, already visually separated to look like blood and water.

Jesus suffered.

Jesus chose to.

Most of us don’t. In the two weeks since Beamer died we have had to rehome our other two dogs, Maggie and Sam, after they attacked and killed the family cat of my brother-in-law. We struggled with the choice. My first instinct was euthanasia – once a dog has a taste for the hunt they rarely lose it. Sam, having survived being hit by a van and a resulting collapsed lung and shattered pelvis had to have his femoral-head amputated to give him any mobility. The choice to let him suffer not knowing what his quality of life would be was a hard one, but nine years ago he was only a year old so we gave him the chance. Eight years ago his uninjured hind leg developed a tumour in the foot and to save him the whole leg had to be amputated. The specialist called it a “wide margin” to make sure there was no other cancerous tissue left. Any wider and he’d have had to decapitate him! Against the odds, he survived. In fact, he thrived.

He became the hunter of the family. We never had a rat problem. Sam caught and killed every rat that set its foot on the property, some of them as big as a cat…

Now he killed a cat. Not just any cat, but one much loved by the whole family. The choice was hard, but I made it. But grace was offered that I could not have done in the same situation. Lucien and Wendy asked us not to put Sam and Maggie to sleep because of this.

But we all felt since they have children that the dogs must be moved.

Two weeks of struggle.

I’ve read about the shootings in America, the issues with ISIS, atrocities by everyone in the Middle-East, and my struggle this week has been the behaviour of my dog. It seems small to most people. “It’s just a dog” is a phrase I’m used to, and it’s helped me reduce the number of “friends” I have on Facebook.

Maggie and Sam have been taken to my mum’s house, where 2 weeks ago Beamer – their mother – was staying. Her room, bed and blankets are now theirs. I watched them excitedly rush to find their mum today. Her scent must be overwhelming for them. I saw them mover the blankets and the mattress, then scratch at the door to go outside. I watched as they ran to Beamer’s favourite spot to lie outside, only to find it empty. I watched them try to understand their mum wasn’t there, and I couldn’t explain to them she wouldn’t be back. They have a struggle with that. We’ve gone from 5 dogs to 2 in 6 years. And you can’t explain it to them.

Struggles come in all shapes.

These came as a distraction to me. I have admin work for my day-job that needs doing, and marketing and desktop publishing design work for the ministry that is left undone for now because of these struggles.

They may seem petty in light of world events, but our personal struggles are things God cares about just as much as mass shootings. He notices a sparrow’s life (Luke 12:6), how much more does He notice ours? The trick of the Enemy is to make us feel our struggles are unworthy of God. Things we “should” be able to deal with ourselves.

But not giving God the little things is like trying to get a Ferrari to run on diesel. Technically the fuel might move the car, but it’ll never be what it was designed to be. A Ferrari is designed to run on high octane fuel. A human was designed to run on reliance on God.

Remembering that is the biggest struggle of all.
Struggle

Anger Management

“Be angry, and do not sin” Ephesians 4:26a

I have a temper. This I know. I’ve struggled with it for most of my life. More than lust, more than anything else I get angry. I see red.

Especially when someone I love has been hurt.

But not exclusively.

Anger gives place to the enemy in my life. It always has done. I have a mean streak that can be downright sadistic at times, and it’s not something I’m proud of. This is a confession, not a boast. It is the source of my greatest weakness, but when channelled correctly it can be a source of great Godly strength.

Unfortunately for me, most of the time it get misdirected.

We all have an aspect which allows the enemy to get a foothold in our hearts. Mine happens to be my temper, but I know people who struggle with greed, lust, envy and all manner of things that can be positive attributes if we use them the way God intends.

What it comes down to at the end of the day is pride.

It’s a sense of being wronged either by a perceived sleight, or someone else getting the promotion, the raise, the lotto win or anything where we believe ourselves to me more “deserving” than the other.

Sometimes it’s not wrong. I have had several people through the last 30 years come to me for help because they have been raped, assaulted or abused in some way. It’s not wrong to feel anger about the event. Nobody deserves that kind of tragedy in their life. It’s not wrong to be angry that cancer has afflicted a member of your circle. God hates those things. When Christ returns and the World is destroyed and reborn they will cease to exist. All pain and anguish will vanish and we will be left with Joy.

The problem for me – and many others – is the inability to separate the action from the perpetrator. Christ drove out the money-changers and traders from the Temple (twice) because He was overcome by zeal for the Holiness of God, not hatred for the men themselves. He went to the Cross as much for the traders as He did for the Disciples. Some of them may have been in the 5000 added to the Christian numbers after Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts. Others may have never returned to the job. For all we know, Zaccheus may have been among them.

Anger in itself is not sinful. Consider Jesus’s actions:

  1. He sees the Temple court being used for decidedly ungodly trade
  2. He looks around for cords and takes the time to braid them into a whip
  3. He takes the whip and marches into the Temple
  4. He starts a riot. Tables are overturned. Animals are driven into a frenzy.
  5. His anger is controlled. He gently releases the doves rather than throwing the cages to the floor

There is nothing pacifistic about the actions of Jesus that day. The Renaissance paintings portraying Jesus as about 120lbs soaking wet cannot be accurate. Could such a man single-handedly cause such a riot? This was a freight-train power, unstoppable and immutable. Hardly a nine-stone wimp’s actions. I weigh over 200lbs and I doubt I could do what Jesus did that day.

Yet there was no sin in His behaviour. It was a measured, calculated and controlled use of force. There are no recorded injuries from His actions (except the pride of the traders). Even the animals are unhurt, if a little panicked. Sinless anger.

Would that this were my skill.

I don’t fare well when I’m angry. And people get hurt. Usually emotionally, but I’ve been known to throw a punch (although not in the last 26 years or so). But that capacity is constantly present, just below the surface.

Paul says we need to take our thoughts captive and submit them to Christ. It’s something I struggle with. I remember Tony Campolo, a man whom I respect but don’t always agree with, at a festival in 1990 in England saying he was once asked “Would you be free from your burden of sin” and his response was “Ya know, it’s not really that b2ec7-p1030925_editedmuch of a burden. Actually I like it. I wouldn’t do it so much if I didn’t enjoy it!”

I can identify with that when it comes to anger. It’s a place I feel comfortable. It’s familiar to me. Anger has been a refuge for me for 30 years. I hide in it and let my sheer physical strength and mental brute force run amok of anything that gets in the way.

Hardly Godly.

But we are called to control ourselves. Or rather we are called to submit ourselves to God before we react. For me that’s a work in progress.

But we can make progress.

I have more peace in my heart now than I did when I began writing this post a few hours ago. Nothing externally has changed, in fact in some ways things have got more complicated.

All Good Things

I’d intended this post to be an uplifting one. New beginnings on the new site and all that.

The problem is that life gets in the way of my plans too often.

I meant to write this a week ago. Then I got thrown a curve. Beamer, my beautiful Swiss Shepherd, decided to stop eating. Now this is a dog that will ingest anything, so turning down freshly cooked chicken with rice meant something very wrong. A trip to the vet and a course of antibiotics later and she was no better. This time we insisted she be seen by the senior vet, an old-fashioned vet who’s been practising over 50 years.

He felt around her abdomen and told us there was nothing we could do. She’d lost a lot of weight and her muscle mass was eroding. Cancer would be the cause.

So after 12 wonderful years of companionship we had to say goodbye to her.

In “Beautiful Outlaw”, John Eldredge describes a game his Golden Retriever taught himself, carrying a rock to the top of the hill, then pushing it down the slope and giving joyful chase. Beamer was a lot like that for me. Before her I was scared of dogs, but having had a life surrounded by them for 12 years now I’m delighted to have seen God’s handiwork in them.

It’s not easy to be the leader of a pack of dogs. Yes, while standing up I had a distinct advantage, but once I was seated I was hopelessly outmatched. Beamer was the second oldest. Snuggles, my wife’s dog, was many years her senior. The two of them got on fine until Beamer realised she was about 7 times the size of her elder, at which point we had to start keeping them apart. Someone suggested we get another big dog to play with Beamer, so Cadbury, a Golden Retriever with the common-sense of a daffodil, entered our lives at the age of six weeks. Beamer promptly sat on him. Repeatedly.

Then we realised we needed to have her spayed. Since Caddy was not only male but a pedigree we decided to spare the knife, but before we could do anything, Beamer came into heat. Caddy was not a year old yet and we had no idea just how strong his drive was. Nine weeks later and we had another 11 dogs, smaller but chaotic. We kept 2 of them and the family was complete.

A year later we had a grumpy 5 kilo Snuggles and four 35kg monsters bouncing around the place. At my heaviest I was only 118kg, so they had me beat in weight and numbers. Sitting down became a tricky task as I needed to position myself so they didn’t swamp me.

Beamer was the boss. Very much so. Caddy, despite being stockier, just didn’t have the will to dominate her. The two younger ones, Magellan (Maggie) and Sam, were boisterous as only young dogs can be. Sam picked a fight with a van when he was just a year old. He survived so we called it a draw. The following year he got a cancer in his back leg, so the vet amputated at the hip. Now at ten years old he rules the roost. With 3 legs.

But Beamer was very much my dog. She would stay by my side, sit at my feet and walk to heel (mostly) any time we went out. We played with her ball in the pool. She’d drop it, I’d dive for it, throw it and she’d fetch it so we could begin again. She exuded life and embraced it in a way I loved.

I collected her ashes today. I think it was even harder than holding her paws as she slipped away.

“…surely a live dog is better than a dead lion” Ecclesiastes 9:4b

I learned a lot about God from Beamer. We see Him where we look least sometimes until we look back.

After the pups were born there was a period of about 6 or 7 weeks when she had to feed them, but she only had 10 teets, and there were 11 pups. Every morning I would go to the bathroom where she had given birth. I would open the door and she would come out, carrying the same puppy each morning. She jumped onto our bed, dropped Sam onto our pillows and went back to feed the others. After a few minutes she would come back to check on him. Once they were all fed, Sam by bottle and the others by her, she would come back, collect him and put him back with the rest of the litter. The trust, the generosity was amazing. And a reflection of God.

One day there was a splash from the garden. Two of the pups had fallen into the pool. Beamer stood on the side of the pool and tapped the water. They swam towards her. She repeated the procedure until they got to the shallow top step where she could get in to take them out because they could now stand. Doesn’t God do that for us? He leads us from the dangers of the deep into the shallows where we can play in His presence then He lifts us to safety.

When we started to have to part with the puppies we had to lock her outside while the prospective new owners collected their charges. Part of the reason we kept Maggie and Sam was we saw how she would come back in and hunt around the house looking for the missing puppy. When Sam had the accident he was away for several weeks recovering. My wife and I went to see him every night, so we came home smelling of him. She went nuts. The following year when he had his leg removed she tried to stay in with him and comfort him. Sounds very familiar to how the Bible describes God’s love for us.

So thank you Beamer. The most unlikely theologian anyone could meet. It was a blessing to have you in our lives, even for so short a time.